Montana on a Mission Inc. is the outcome of an initiative conceived in 1996 when Dennis and Ellen Freed built a house in the tiny barrio of Calunasan Sur on the island of Bohol, Philippines. The intense poverty and profound need of the residents of the barrio quickly became evident to them. When a young mother died of an infected mosquito bite in 1998 they were motivated to get involved in providing poverty relief to the residents of the village. They shared this sense of urgency with their church in Big Timber, MT.
Calunasan Sur is typical of many rural villages in the Central Visayas. It is composed of 67 homes which are inhabited by 367 people (2000 census). The approved minimum daily wage rate for Bohol, as of October 1, 2000 was P155.00 ($3.50) for non-agricultural and P130.00 ($2.90) for agricultural. Based on a 1997 survey, Bohol’s average annual family income, pegged at P56,940.00 ($1265.00), was among the lowest in the region. The average annual expenditure in 1997 for a Boholano family amounted to P50,754.00 ($1130.00), the highest in the region. In 1997, Bohol’s poverty incidence rate of 48.4% was the highest in Region 7, higher than the national average rate of 40%.
In 2005, the Big Timber Church responded to a need to resolve dangerous drinking water issues in the barrio by sending funds and a team of short-term volunteer workers to assist the local inhabitants in constructing a water system throughout the village. This project required the drilling of two wells, the construction of several cisterns and the installation of thousands of feet of pipe. As a result of this effort the residents of the entire barrio have safe drinking water piped to their door and many have indoor plumbing.
Since then more than ten teams and one hundred individuals from a variety of churches have travelled to the barrio to assist on a number of projects. To date Montana on a Mission has funded and partnered in the construction of five new homes in the barrio of Calunasan Sur. In addition, we have funded the remodeling of eighteen other homes in the village. These projects were completed at no cost to the homeowner.
Our mission statement states that we exist: “To inform, invite, and initiate concerned Christians toward action… To join God by working with Him on His mission to the world. We do this by coming alongside those in need, by giving them a "hand up" in life that they might praise God and grow in their relationship with Christ”.
This implies that we realize that there are situations that exist in which we need to rescue people from perilous situations by intervening to mitigate occurrences of contaminated drinking water, inadequate housing and other dangerous circumstances that are inherent in the extreme poverty in developing countries. However, we understand that another aspect of our purpose is that solutions to generational poverty require commitments to long-term partnerships, thus the “come alongside” reference.
In 2007, Montana on a Mission constructed the Calunasan Sur Production Center. It is a 30’x75’ structure that houses a fully equipped woodshop. This workspace contains the tools and machines necessary to produce carvings and furniture products. The building also encloses a sewing area which is equipped with industrial sewing machines that are used to produce clothing and other articles such as handbags and backpacks. It is here that the local villagers are able to produce handmade wares for sale to tourists in nearby Loboc. To facilitate the sale of these products, Montana on a Mission partnered with the people of Calunasan Sur to construct a sales outlet, The River Hut, in the municipality of Loboc. Loboc is situated on the river that bears its name. It is here that tourists are attracted by river boat tours, the Loboc Children’s Choir and a live tarsier monkey display. This retail enterprise advances our tax-exempt status in that all of the profits from this enterprise benefit the community of Calunasan Sur.
We believe that there is a direct link between generational poverty and educational achievement. One of the root effects of those trapped in poverty is that their children have limited opportunities to learn. The poor do not get a chance to move out of poverty because they are denied access to the means of acquiring skills and knowledge; consequently poverty perpetuates poverty. We believe that by increasing the opportunities of the poor to enroll at all levels of education we will make use of one of the most sustainable instruments available to end this cycle in underprivileged communities.
The elementary school is attended by students from Calunasan Sur as well as elementary age students from the neighboring villages of Canlisid and Ugpong. Presently, there is no library or access to computer technology. Montana on a Mission is currently negotiating a partnership with the local school district, the provincial government and another humanitarian organization to build a learning center that will consist of a library, a technology center and a pre-school classroom. We have acquired the donation of computers and are soliciting library books for shipment to the Philippines. The construction of this facility has been completed an in January, 2010 a team from the U.S. will travel to the village to assist in equipping the building.
One hundred percent of the funding for the activity of Montana on a Mission has come from the donations of generous individuals and churches. We do not presently employ anyone nor do we have any immediate plans to hire staffing. We rely on the volunteerism of those people who donate their time and resources. Montana on a Mission insists that funds for the travel of work teams to Bohol be paid by those who travel. Fundraising occurs through the web of relationships that are developed by those who are involved in the mission of the organization.